Non-Profit Leadership: Attracting the Right Talent to Move your Organization Ahead.


Zach Yentzer and Devon Underwood spent time in July talking about talent strategy for non-profits.  Over 2 segments on Tipping Point’s Workforce Pivots, they covered how to think through a leadership search, and they spoke with Emily Yetman at Living Streets Alliance about the hiring she’s recently completed.


The importance of employees understanding and connecting with the values and mission of a non-profit business cannot be overstated. This starts with the visible engagement of top leadership immersed in the purpose of the non-profit. It is the most important variable in determining the advancement of the organization.

How do you find a leader that can move the organization forward? Start by identifying the most pressing need the company faces, often outlined by current management and the Board of Directors.

  • Is it a candidate with a track record in fundraising?
  • Is there a morale challenge? Can a new leadership style get the most out of the team and re-inspire their mission focus?
  • Does the company require a community figurehead? Can s/he be a strategist in the greater neighborhood, developing alliances and building bridges?

Finding the right talent hinges on establishing the company’s core need up front.

Placing the best leader for your non-profit calls for some reflection by the decision-makers within your organization, including your HR team as well as a connected and thoughtful recruiting partner.

  • Do they fully grasp what the company needs, as addressed above?
  • Are they limiting their search to candidates with certain “pedigrees,” i.e., brag-worthy universities, positions in non-profit behemoths?
  • Does the Board have the bandwidth to consolidate diverse perspectives and commit energy to the search?
  • Is the search team prepared to dedicate the time to tell the story of your non-profit to candidates on a national scale?

Emily Yetman, Founder and Executive Director of Living Streets Alliance, wrestled with these issues as she was looking for leaders of their key initiatives or programs. Emily leads a non-profit in the Tucson area, advocating for streets as living public places, connecting people to places and each other. Her organization has been instrumental in supporting Safe Routes to School (SRTS), parklet development, transportation funding, and is the force behind Cyclovia Tucson, the bi-annual celebration bringing Tucsonans together to socialize and play on car-free streets.

Emily acknowledged the internal weaknesses she faced in embarking on a fruitful candidate search. To counter this, she turned to the Talent Store as a recruiting partner, to help navigate LSA’s search. Emily was positioned to maximize this relationship, following key tenets to successful hiring in the non-profit sector.  She was clear on what the company stands for, aware there would need to be a level of passion between candidates and the organization’s mission. She also knew to seek an alignment between prospective leaders and company values, i.e., trusting team members to balance home and business life as they see fit.

Whether a non- or for-profit organization, these factors should be considered when seeking a recruiting partner:

  • What has the recruiter done to understand your organization? What will s/he do on your behalf? Will s/he be instrumental in vetting, pre-qualifying, and pre-screening prospects?
  • How is s/he going to tell your story? How will the sense of purpose and passion behind your company be translated to prospective candidates?
  • What is the frequency and process for keeping you updated on market behavior, candidate pipeline, and feedback on candidate movement, i.e., why h/she’s moving forward (or not) with the application?
  • Will they provide unsolicited advice when useful (ex. tips on updating a clunky, out-of-date online application process)?

Whether choosing to work with a recruiting partner or not, our advice remains the same when considering how wide to “cast the candidate net.” While the inclination may be to limit search to those with non-profit experience, we caution against doing so. There are for-profit experienced candidates with talent to share; it is a matter of identifying the ones that are poised to make the successful transition. Keep in mind – applicants should be thoughtful in their responses and answers should resonate before being moved forward as transition candidates.

Questions to ask:

  • What do you understand about this non-profit in particular?
  • How do you see the learning curve as you transition to non-profit? Will your leadership style change?
  • How will you approach what you need to learn about operating this organization?
  • Ask for stories explaining why s/he wants to be a leader at this company.

Whether teaming with a recruiter or managing your executive search solo, the formula for building effective leadership at your non-profit remains the same.  Know who you are, know what you need, and seek a clear alignment between the candidate and your organization’s values.

Let’s talk about how the Talent Store can help you find the next impactful leader for your organization.

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